Erin O’Malley, a Senior Management Major at Providence College (and my former Providence College Women’s Rugby teammate!) is the co-founder and Marketing Director of Njabini, a nonprofit organization located in Njabini, Kenya. The mission of Njabini is to “help poor families in rural Kenya increase their income and achieve their dreams.”
Currently, Njabini creates economic opportunities for the women of this rural village using three programs, Wakulima Pamoja, the Njabini Workshop, and the Potato Project. Wakulima Pamoja meaning Farmers Together in Kiswahili, is the farming support system created by Njabini to increase profits from agriculture. The Njabini Workshop employs local women to make apparel and accessories that will be sold to generate income for themselves and their families. The Potato Project, is Njabini’s latest endeavor, and is currently aiming to increase Njabini’s capacity to grow potatoes.
Erin became involved in the small farming town of Njabini, located in the Aberdare Mountains while she was volunteering with Flying Kites, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for orphans in the same area of Kenya. While volunteering there, Erin became inspired to develop an organization that would create economic stability for the families of Njabini. In order to bring Njabini, the organization, from a dream into a reality, Erin took a year off from her studies at Providence College to dive into its development.
While volunteering with Flying Kites, Erin and Njabini co-founder, Mike Behan, witnessed the dire need for families in the Njabini community to secure a reliable income. About 85% of the population of Njabini base their income on farming, and although the geography of the area provides fertile land, moderating and structural circumstances have created disadvantages and taken away the land’s full potential. Therefore, the majority of farmers in Njabini still live in poverty.
Although Kenya’s economy is one of the most developed in eastern Africa, the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index ranks Kenya 128th of 169 countries in “life expectancy, educational attainment, and standard of living.” According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s (IFAD) Rural Poverty Portal, Kenya’s rural poverty stems from rapid population growth. Over the last 30 years the population of Kenya has tripled. This influx has diminished natural resources and increased the income gap, thinning education attainment, health, nourishment, personal security, and employment.
In addition to structural deficits, the rate of HIV/AIDS in Kenya is highest among the younger, working population. Therefore, HIV adds another layer of vulnerability to families and the economy. According to IFAD’s Rural Poverty Portal, “the burden of waterborne diseases, malaria and HIV/AIDS weighs heavily on both the country and Kenyan families, affecting income, food security and development potential.” The life expectancy of Kenya was 46 years in 2006, but has risen to over 55.
The Njabini website lays out the three major structural components of the community that lead to poverty in Njabini. First, the impoverished community lacks sufficient capital to invest in “quality inputs”. Inputs are farming material, such as seeds, manure, and humus. Additionally, there is a “lack of technical training in commercial farming practice” in Njabini. Lastly, the community is characterized by “inefficient and poor market access”. Generally, the cycle of poverty has been sustaining itself there due to a lack of resources.
However, one thing that Njabini does not lack is strong, intelligent, and motivated women. The women of Njabini are solely responsible for the well being of their families. Typically, the men do not take responsibility for family issues, which include FOOD for the children, CLOTHING for the children, and EDUCATION expenses for the children. IFAD also reports that rural women in Kenya do not have “equal access to social and economic assets”, leaving them exponentially vulnerable to poverty and its effects. Agriculture is most often the only source of “livelihood” for about 70 percent of women in Kenya.
Through speaking with Erin and perusing the Njabini website, I was able to glimpse into the lives of the women of Njabini. Currently, Njabini employs ten women in the Njabini Workshop, each of whom posses’ strong skill sets and big dreams. Despite having lived in circumstances of extreme poverty, experienced unthinkable personal tragedies, and who all live with physical disabilities, these resilient women have worked to support their families and earn higher wages through their collaboration with Njabini. To name a few, Alice is a skilled tailor by trade, and Martha has a vision of opening a local store to provide her community with additional farming supplies. Jane developed her own program that teaches women how to knit and sell goods as a way to support their families. Mary is the soon-to-be manager of Njabini workshop operations, and Lucy inspired the creation of Njabini, the organization! Please visit “The Mothers” section of the Njabini website to learn more about the women who currently participate.
Through collaborating with the Ministry of Agriculture, Njabini assists with the three economic dilemmas that families face in the community. The farmers in the Njabini programs receive inputs at a 26% price discount, training which includes financial management skills such as savings and budgeting, record keeping, debt management, and crop management practices, and most importantly, support to gain market access to sell their goods.
Njabini’s farming programs help families “decrease the cost of planting their crops, minimize crop-failure risk, and increase the productivity of their land- greatly increasing the profitability of their farms each harvest season.” So far, Njabini’s model has allowed families in the community to increase their crop yield by 50%.
Although Njabini’s mission targets economic empowerment, much more occurs under the surface. Specifically, when women do not have financial stability or access to employment they may experience the following hardships: malnutrition, malnourished children, complications during pregnancy, other unnecessary complications from illness or injury, mental health problems, prostitution as income, sell their own children into prostitution, or remain in a violent or abusive relationship because they rely on their husbands for financial support.
One of the finest aspects of Njabini, the organization, is that the profit from all Njabini programs goes directly back into the community. The food being sold by the Njabini farmers is used to sustain the community, the income generated allows students to attain an education, and additional profits are used to improve and increase farming production for other members of the community. Since Njabini began in 2010, the income of the participating women has doubled, their children are able to attend school, and nutrition in the community is improving. According to the Njabini website, the agriculture program has enrolled 37 families, and the average income generation for each harvest season has been $380 for each family, indicating a 300% increase in farm profitability. Njabini has improved 270 livelihoods in the community.
Through her own education and a volunteer opportunity, Erin was empowered to start Njabini. By providing a different type of opportunity, women who work with Njabini are able to empower themselves, help their families and community thrive, and live their dreams.
Although a massive structural change in the economy and cultural norms in Kenya is necessary to even out the playing field for men and women there, Njabini and similar organizations are directly improving the lives of families and empowering women. Please support Njabini, the chances to increase their capacity, and spread hope for women and children living there.
Currently, Njabini has set a goal to double the income of 5,000 families by 2015, and you can help!